THE HISTORY OF THE M.M. DEGREE IN THE CANADIAN RITE
R.W. Bro. T. S. Woods
The dictionary defines "history" as "the aggregate of past events." It is clear that time and circumstances will not permit a full dissertation on the aggregate of past events leading up to the establishments of the Master Mason's Degree as exemplified in the Canadian Rite. Suffice it therefore to deal at this time with a summary of the source of the ceremonies used in portraying the Third Degree by those Canadian Lodges practicing this particular method of working. Following this summary let us look into certain theories concerning the reason these ceremonies became engrafted in the body of masonic ritual with particular reference to certain significant passages and differences.
In his compilation of Masonic Problems and Queries Herbert F. Inman states that the only ritual or mode of working which received the sanction of the United Grand Lodge of England was the system settled by the Lodge of Reconciliation and demonstrated at an Especial Grand Lodge on 20 May 1816 with H.R.H. the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master, in the chair. At the next meeting, only sixteen days later, the minutes record that "the several ceremonies, etc., recommended were approved and confirmed." From this short account it would appear that the earlier Especial Communication had been convened with one of its principal purposes being consideration of the demonstration of the work exemplified by the Lodge of Reconciliation.
The Lodge of Reconciliation had been brought into existence by the Articles of Union and was warranted on 7 December 1813 for the purpose of "establishing and securing perfect Uniformity in all the warranted Lodges." Its labours continued for three years. The work does not appear to have been named or designated as "Reconciliation Ritual" or "Reconciliation Work." Minutes and references of the period concerning the work refer to it in such terms as "as confirmed by the Grand Lodge" or "the approved mode". From these references it would appear that, to some minds at least, the Grand Lodge had given its imprimatur to a specific method of exemplifying the work.
The next development of importance was the establishment of the famous Emulation Lodge of Improvement on 2 October 1823. It was founded to preserve and propagate the work approved by the Grand Lodge in 1816.
Bernard E. Jones, in his Freemason's Guide and Compendium, points out that the Emulation working is noted for its strict adherence to precise verbal detail and comments that it was well nigh impossible to bring away from the Lodge of Reconciliation (which had no printed rituals and which had expired three years earlier) an infallible recollection of every line of the ceremonies. Nonetheless Bro. Henry Sadler, the eminent historian of Emulation Lodge, could say with equanimity that the Emulation standard "is fixed, unaltering and unalterable." He may have been right! If so the Emulation working, being the same as that of Reconciliation, is indeed an "approved" working.
What then, of the Canadian scene? Leonard Morris in his History of Freemasonry in Canada reports that in British Columbia in 1871 there were four Lodges chartered under the aegis of the Grand Lodge of England and five under the Grand Lodge of Scotland. On 21 October 1871 a convention of lodges was held in Victoria and the Grand Lodge of British Columbia was formed. The constituent lodges were specifically permitted to continue using their several rituals. Thus the wording under the "English" lodges brought the Emulation ceremonies into British Columbia in the early days of that province's masonic history.
Alberta and Saskatchewan derived their working through Manitoba and thus, indirectly from the Grand Lodge of Canada in Ontario. In the History of The Grand Lodges of Canada in the Province of Ontario it is reported that in an address to the 50th Annual Communication the historian of that Grand Lodge stated:
"The work of our lodges in Canada is precisely the same as that of the Emulation work ... and exactly the same as that worked in England and in all lodges on the roll of the Grand Lodge of England."
There will be reason to question this statement later.
In Manitoba charters were granted by The Grand Lodge of Canada to: Winnipeg Lodge (later known as Prince Rupert's Lodge) in 1871; Manitoba Lodge (later Lisgar Lodge) in 1871 and Ancient Landmark Lodge in 1873. In 1875 these three Lodges organized themselves into the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. After a dispute concerning rituals the Grand Lodge resolved in 1879:
"That each Lodge in the jurisdiction, or that may hereafter be formed ... be accorded the privilege of adopting The Ancient York Work or the Canada Work, as they may deem most suitable."
Subsequently the Grand Lodge of Manitoba granted charters to lodges using both rituals in what was then the Northwest Territories and when the Grand Lodges of Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed their constitutions permitted the use of either ritual.
Thus the Canadian Rite or Working can be seen to be substantially the working approved by the United Grand Lodge of England and subsequently called the Emulation Working. Thus the Emulation working of the Master Mason's Degree is part of the Canadian Rite.
Having established the source of the ceremonies conducted in exemplifying the Sublime Degree in the Canadian Rite consideration should now be given to the history of the ritual itself as applied in the Canadian Rite and some of the questions the words used raise in our minds. We are, of course, dealing with the Hiramic Legend. Let us look at the legend as it appears in our Canadian Rite rituals and consider certain significant differences between the various working.
The Invocation finished we move with the candidate to the S.W.'s station where he is instructed to approach the altar by the proper steps. What is the significance of the first three steps? Is it not a mockery of the dead, almost a sacrilegious act? Meredith Sanderson in An Examination of the Masonic Ritual suggests that the steps in the Second Degree were formerly performed on a square by walking around the angle and those of the Third on the square and compasses combined by stepping on the corners of the figure thus made. Where then does he get seven corners? If, however, we refer back to the Invocation we see that the brethren have implored the Diety to bring the candidates safely through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, to rise from the Tomb of Transgression and to shine as the stars, etc. And where is the candidate on the last of the seven steps? Right in front of the altar and the V.S.L.! Could this be but a capsule version of the ceremony he is about to go through? Are not the Invocation and the approach but an overture before the curtain rises on the real drama? But in the Emulation ritual and the Oxford ritual there is no mention of the altar. The W.M. tells the S.W. to direct the Deacons to instruct the candidate to advance "to the East" by the proper steps. In the Canadian Rite the direction given is to instruct the candidate "'to approach the Altar by the proper steps."
In both the Emulation and the Oxford workings, however, the candidate is immediately directed to kneel and place his hands on the V.S.L. Presumably therefore specific mention of the support for the V.S.L. was omitted from the rubrics. In the Oxford ritual, at the time the questions are put to the candidate reference is made to the Senior Deacon leading the candidate "to the Pedestal." And immediately following the instruction to show the candidate how to advance to the East the following instruction is found: "The J.D. conducts the Candidate to within about six feet from the pedestal ..." It is probably safe to assume therefore that in both of these workings there was an altar or at least some support for the V.S.L.
Following his obligation the Candidate is treated to an exhortation by the W.M. explaining the meaning of the first two degrees. In both the Emulation and Oxford workings the clause: "it instructed you in the active principles of universal beneficence and charity, to seek the solace of your own distress, by extending relief and consolation to your fellow creatures in the hour of their affliction" is followed by "above all it taught you to bend with humility ... etc." In the Canadian Rite ritual used in Alberta however, we find a further clause inserted: "it enabled you to free the soul from the dominion of pride and prejudice, to look beyond the narrow limits of particular institutions, whether civil or religious, and to view in every son of Adam a brother of the dust." From whence came this clause? Without any authorized printed ritual in use under the United Grand Lodge of England the historian is brought to an abrupt halt. Is this part of the Emulation working? Or is it a Canadian innovation? These differences can have a profound effect on the interpretation of the work.
For example, when the legend of Hiram is related to the candidate following the exhortation he is told that the genuine secrets of a Master Mason were lost. Students of the legend refer frequently to the incongruity of saying they were lost when they were still known to K.S. and H.K. of T. In the Canadian Work it is reported that H.A. told the first assassin that the secrets of a Master Mason could only be communicated "in the presence and with the consent of three, and without the consent of the other two he neither could nor would reveal them." The inference is that if the other two were present and consented he, as a single individual, could divulge those secrets. If this be so why could not the other two, or either of them with the consent of the other, impart them after his death? Surely that calamitous event warranted a communication of the secrets to the others for the benefit, and possibly the survival, of the craft. Why the lamentation at a loss that could be so easily repaired?
An examination of other rituals may provide a clue. In the Emulation working the wording of this part of the narrative is significantly different. H.A. tells the assassin that the secrets were known "to but three in the whole world," (a statement which does not appear in our Canadian Rite Ritual) and that "without the consent and cooperation of the other two "he would not divulge them." The use of the word "cooperation" puts an entirely different completion on the matter. It was not the mere presence and acquiescence of the three Grand Masters that was required but their cooperation, i.e. they had to do some act or thing in unison in order to lawfully impart the genuine secrets. Under these circumstances the death of any one of them could have resulted in the loss of those secrets.
As a matter of interest a quick check of several rituals readily at hand discloses that the Ontario rituals of 1938 and 1964, the current British Columbia ritual, and the current Saskatchewan ritual as well as that of Alberta are "presence and consent" rituals. An Emulation ritual of 1906, and Irish Working ritual of 1910 and a Nigerian ritual of 1960 are all "consent and cooperation" rituals. It is alleged that the Nigerian Ritual of 1960 is the authorized printed ritual which most closely follows the Emulation working as practiced in the United Grand Lodge of England today.
The rubrics in the 1906 Emulation ritual examined differ markedly from the Alberta rubrics. Again no mention is made of an altar and the candidate when required to salute the W.M. is usually to the left of the S.W. During the narrative of the murder of H.A. the candidate and Wardens stand in the same manner in both rituals. however where that Alberta ritual directs the Wardens to "strike" the candidate with their respective working tools, the Emulation ritual instructs them to "touch" the right and left temples respectively. Then, when it is the turn of the W.M. the direction is that he '"may" touch the candidate's F.H. If he does so, he must return to his seat because after the Wardens fail to raise the candidate the Emulation ritual directs as follows: "He leaves the chair from the l., and they ... the Can.)
When the candidate is directed to leave the lodge to resume his personal comforts the instructions given are as follows:
"The S.D. conducts the Can. to the left of the S.W., and directs him to salute the W.M. in the 3 Ds. Can. then retires from the Lodge. On his return, the S.D: places him at the left of the S.W., and directs him to salute the W.M. in the Three Degrees; after which, the S.W., rising, with the Sn., presents him to the W.M...."
Note again the absence of any mention or use of the altar. Note too the saluting in the three degrees.
Referring again to Bernard E. Jones' Compendium we find this passage:
"The Master's pedestal, as we see it in almost any English Lodge today, is, in a sense, a combination of altar and desk; but in some Yorkshire Lodges there is a separate altar immediately in front of the Master's pedestal."
This indicates there is a valid reason for the difference in the rubrics between the Emulation and Canadian rituals. Jones himself states:
"In the lodges of many jurisdictions is a central altar, notably in those of the American States, and its presence undoubtedly influences the form of the ritual."
In summary, therefore, we have established that the source of the Canadian Rite ritual, in whatever form any Canadian jurisdiction may have it, is the Emulation working which was probably derived in large measure out of the ceremonies of the Lodge of Reconciliation approved in 1816. Notwithstanding the boasts of the eminent historians of Emulation Lodge and of the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario, the working has not remained "fixed, unaltering and unalterable" nor is the work of the lodges in Canada "precisely the same as that of the Emulation work ... and exactly the same as that worked in England."
Let us refer to one final passage from Jones' Compendium.
"The variations in masonic ritual are a never-ending subject of discussion among Brethren, some few of whom occasionally may be tempted to regard their doxy as orthodoxy and the other man's doxy as heterdoxy. If one thing above all others is clear, it is that the Lodge of Reconciliation agreed on certain essentials, its compelling motive being nothing more than the necessity of adjusting differences existing between the 'Moderns' and the 'Ancients', but it did not lay down a cast-iron ritual, word by word. The members and visiting Brethren from that Lodge went all over the country and taught as they remembered, There is reason to believe that much 'give and take' went on unofficially, and that the ceremonies, while retaining every essential, deviated considerably in detail during the next ten years. Consequently, it is impossible to believe that any one system of ritual derived line by line, word by word, directly, and without alteration, from the Lodge of Reconciliation.... Of the many varieties met in the workings of the different lodges in matters of unimportant detail it is impossible to say that some, but not others, have the authority of time-immemorial usage."
And it would indeed be sad if we each in our separate Grand jurisdictions and our separate lodges, practicing the Canadian Rite, were to lose track of masonry's time-immemorial teachings, to take a rubble heap for a landmark, over trivial disputes as to the reliability of some obscure reference or passage in the ritual or some action or omitted action in the ceremony. Many Alberta Brethren would be seriously offended if they were denied the use of the canvas — a prop unknown to the Emulation working. Many brethren, conscious of their diction, refuse to mouth that monstrosity "which I will now make trial of." These examples can no doubt be multiplied a hundredfold. An examination such as that which we have just concluded serves to point out to us the great history of our craft and the internal and external pressures which came to bear upon it down through the years. Had these ceremonies been carried forward in a straight and perfect line, without variation or deviation, there would be no point to masonic research, no wealth of knowledge of our ancient brethren, no insight into the problems of their days. Let us therefore, while examining the past, yet take from it the great bulk of beauty and moral philosophy that it contains and give thanks to the M.H. for the blessings he has thereby conferred upon us.